Monday, February 2, 2015
Morality defined by consent. . .
Robert Reno put it this way in the February First Things, "by this way of thinking, it's okay for a guy to go to a party, meet a girl for the first time, and an hour later to have sexual intercourse with her -- as long as they both consent...." Ah, that is indeed the issue. Consent does not make a thing moral and lack of consent does not make it immoral. But that is where our valueless society has left us -- the one remaining shred of decency left to us is the idea that as long as we do it knowingly and agreeably, that is all that matters.
When I was but a youth, I succumbed to one of those enticing ads for a record club (yeah, I know, nobody knows what a record or a record club is today). Anyway, I got fourteen record albums of my choice free -- the hitch being I had to purchase so many per year at regular price until the obligation was fulfilled. That was the part I had trouble with. I could afford free but I could not afford $7 or $8 per album. After the enrollment period matured I received a nice letter telling me how many albums I had to purchase and that I was already behind in my contractual agreement. I tried to get them to cancel by saying I was underage. Then my mom wised up, opened some of the correspondence before I got to the mail and paid my debt (taking the cost of it out of my hide). My mom insisted the morality was not defined by age. Somebody needs to wake up today and scream out that morality is also not defined by consent.
What danger await us by assigning all moral weight upon simple informed consent? You name it. Every kind of perverse, sadistic, masochistic, sinful, and deviant desire is suddenly legitimized by informed consent. Pretty soon we will all wear body recorders so that we can get on record that he, she, or said "yes" no matter what kind of buyer's remorse erupted after the fact. This is not much different than the idea to answer the problems of policing with a body camera! Yet this is exactly where we are beginning to find ourselves.
Promiscuity is not rendered moral because there was no pregnancy or transmission of disease. Sex is not made moral simply because everyone involved knew what they were doing and wanted to do it. Right is not what we all agree it is nor is wrong when we all condemn. Such a morality is too weak to stitch together the fabric of our society or repair the growing rips and tears of a broken community or nation. We need more. We need more than information or agreement. We need something noble enough for us to aspire to and not something quick and easy enough for us to condescend to -- but where will this come from?
That which once united the diversity of America and Americans was a commonly held sense of right and wrong - one that was Judea-Christian, to be sure, but which also transcended the narrow boundaries of religion or ethnicity. Without such commonly held values, we find ourselves desperately searching for some, any, rationale that will make sense of right and wrong.
This is why Christianity has a duty to remain in the public square. Even if we will not win over any converts to the faith, faithfulness requires us to speak to what is right and wrong, to issue a call to clear moral thinking in our muddled world in which knowledge and consent are all that is required, and to help us rebuild a consensus and repair the divisions that threaten us at every turn.
This is why it is so urgent for Christians who are elected to lead on all levels do not leave either their brains or their faith at the door when they enter the halls of legislatures or justice. Things will not be improved by ignoring what we believe, confess, and teach nor will they be rectified by reducing the whole idea of morality to a yes that is informed and a yes that means yes (at least for now).
The consent that ends up in regret cannot be repaired with rules. Christians have a means to deal with this. It is confession and absolution. This, too, is part of our public witness. What some boy or boys should have known or some girl or girls should have made clearer is a fairy tale world in a world in which sex means everything, love means little, marriage is optional and non-essential, and children are valuable only if you can afford them or they can return something to you that you want. There will always be regrets and most of them happen once the haze of booze or drugs or euphoria has left and we have only the horror of a memory.
No, consent, no matter how informed, is hardly strong enough to carry the weight of our new morality. It will leave us more broken, confused, and isolated than ever before.